Saturday, 10 May 2008

Escape to the Cairngorms

And so begins the 2008 season.  70 Munros to go ...

Easter holidays were spent in County Down, Northern Ireland, so no Munros, but a couple of good days in the Mourne Mountains - new territory for us.

Climbed Slieve Donard (right, background) on a very cold day - showers of ice crytals blowing off the top of the Mourne Wall as we headed up towards the summit!

Then a lovely day on Slieve Bearnagh with its rocky tors (right), later in the week.

The next few weeks of April were busy with all the usual stuff, then suddenly, at the start of May, a week of beautiful clear sunny days - irresistible!  Off on Wednesday night in the Espace for an overnight sleep at the Linn o' Dee car park.  

8th May 2008     Derry Cairngorm, Ben MacDui and Carn a' Mhaim

Up at 6.45am, quick breakfast, then off by bike up to Derry Lodge (8.10am).    Enjoyed the views as I headed up the ridge towards Derry Cairngorm (left) on a fine path, reaching its stony summit at 10.30.  After a 20  minute rest, it was time to collect a couple of tops.  First, heading off the main path NE to Sgurr an Lochan Uaine, with fine view over Glen Derry, worth a 15 minute rest!   

Next, I contoured back around to Creagan a' Choire Etchachan, a short cut across a wide flat snow field making the going easy. 

Once again, excellent views - this time down into frozen Loch Etchachan (right), 200m below (but still 900m above sea level), with Beinn Mheadhoin beyond.

After another wee stop, it was time to head up to Ben MacDui, Scotland's second highest summit.

The route was up alongside (but not too near the edge of) a superb cornice (left), with sweeping drops down to Lochan Uaine at the head of Glen Luibeg.  

As the slope levelled off, it was time to head away from the edge, across the snowy plateau towards the summit.  

I had already been to the top of Ben Macdui (from the north with Iain back in 2003), and it was slightly tempting to avoid the 1km trek across snow field and boulders, but the sky was blue and the day long, so decided to pay the hallowed cairn a second visit!

What an amazing place!  A vast plateau covered in boulders, dropping gently at first, then steeply down into the Lairig Ghru to the west.  

Beyond, the 3rd, 4th and 5th highest Munros form a dramatic backdrop, especially when snowclad against a perfect blue sky.  

I spent half an hour admiring it (and eating some lunch!) 

Time to move on again - so headed back across the plateau, slanting southwards across gently-angled snow fields to Sron Riach - another top, and anther excellent viewpoint.  From Sron Riach, a good descent can be made by continuing down its south ridge, but my next objective was the Munro Carn a'Mhaim, connected to Ben Macdui by a bealach at 820m.  So, a steep and rapid descent down a mix of grass and soft snow followed alongide the (mostly hidden under snow) Allt Clach na Taillear - the "tailor's stone burn".

From the bealach, my route continued up the 2km long, gently rising ridge of Carn a' Mhaim - the third and final Munro of the day.  

The weather was still absolutely perfect, so I lingered a while to savour the location - and photographed myself beside some strange large rounded granite blocks near the summit (left), with Ben MacDui and Sron Riach in the background.

The day was drawing on, however, and there was still a fair distance to get back to the car, so I had to tear myself away.  A good path led down the SE ridge to join the Lairig Ghru path below.  Snow melt meant that the Luibeg burn was uncrossable at the stepping stones, so a detour was required up to the Luibeg Bridge.  A 3km trek down the broad path / track, and Derry Lodge (and my bike) came into view.  30 minutes later, I was back at the car at the Linn o' Dee, and soon heading down the road to Braemar for food and a phone signal!

A good day:  Munros 215 and 216 (+ a revisit), tops 359 to 363, 10km cycle, 20km walk, 1500m climb, in 11 hours

9th May 2008     Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain

My target for Friday was to climb these two fairly remote Munros, and be back to Selkirk in time for a colleague's retiral party at 7pm.  That meant an early start!  At least, sleeping in the car at the Linn o' Dee I was right there at the starting point.  So, up at 6am, quick breakfast, and off on my bike at 6.30am.  

Carn Cloich Mhuillin and Beinn Bhrotain from near the "Chest of Dee" (left)

This time, my route was up the Dee on a good track, 4km to White bridge, then continuing on progressively narrower and rougher path for a kilometer or so, until cycling was no quicker than walking.  AT 7.30am, I abandoned the bike, and continued some way up the path on foot, before striking off westward on a beeline for Carn Cloich Mhuillin.  The going was pretty good (just as well after yesterday's exertions) across easy heathery slopes on faint paths to the stony summit.  This "top" is famous as the only Munro (apart from the Inn Pinn) which wasn't climbed by Sir Hugh Munro himself.  In the end that didn't matter, as it was demoted to top status in 1981.  I reached its attractive small summit at 9am.  

I decided to bypass Beinn  Bhrotain and aim for the further away Monadh Mor first.  The route involved a short descent from Carn Cloich Mhuillin, then across a gently rising area of moorland, up some snow slopes, then contouring round the west side of Beinn Bhrotain to the bealach beyond at 975m (right).  This bealach overlooks a coire with the name Coire Cath nam Fionn - so took a photo to send to Cath and Fiona!

A short steep ascent beside an impressive NE facing cornice, and I was on the flat summit plateau of Monadh Mor (above).  

Unfortunately, the summit lay 2km away at its northern end.  Still, the walk there and back was pretty easy going, and the views to the main bulk of the Cairngorms, and away to distant hills in the west, made it worthwhile.  

Above: Devil's Point (nearest), Ben MacDui (left), Sron Riach,  Derry Caringorm (distance) and Carn a' Mhaim (right)  from Monadh Mor

Leaving its summit at 11am, I retraced my steps to the bealach, then up slabby boulders to the top of Beinn Bhrotain - Munro 218 - at noon.  Bizarrely, sitting against the cairn, a work colleague managed to get me on the mobile!

On the summit of Beinn Bhrotain (right)

I reckoned I needed to be back at the Linn o'Dee by 3pm, so no time to linger.  

Made a rapid running descent down gentle snow slopes in Coire an t'Sneachda until I reached the heathery ground below.   The burn was full of melt water and required a bit of a detour to cross, but soon I was down to the path.  A 2km walk east and there was the bike lying beside the path.   The final 3 miles downhill by bike on a well made track was a blissful end to the 2 day trip!

PS made it back to Selkirk with 45 minutes to spare!